NFL Sundays aren’t quite as fun without the Baltimore Ravens. Lamar Jackson’s men play on Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, which left it up to the rest of the league to provide the entertainment this weekend. They did a good job, with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers playing out a nailbiter, the San Francisco defense turning on the style and the New York Jets showing up to stun the Oakland Raiders.
Here are the 10 biggest takeaways from week 12…
49ers defense destroys Rodgers and the Packers
Everything was set up for a classic between perhaps the NFC’s two best teams, but Sunday Night Football turned into an exhibition for the San Francisco 49ers’ defense, who got after Aaron Rodgers from the off and throttled Green Bay’s passing game on the way to a dominant 37-8 victory.
Rodgers did not complete one pass of 10 yards past the line of scrimmage all night, and finished with just 104 yards passing. He was sacked five times – twice by Arik Armstead – and didn’t convert a single third down. It was every bit as ugly as the stats make it look.
By contrast, San Francisco found it easy against a Packers defense which has seriously regressed since the opening weeks of the season. Jimmy Garoppolo only had to complete 14 passes, but was clean, finishing with 253 yards and two touchdowns. He leant on tight end George Kittle, who went off for 129 yards and a touchdown from six catches, and a ground game which got back on track after a quiet few weeks – Raheem Mostert averaged 7.5 yard per carry and found the end zone, as did Tevin Coleman.
The 10-1 Niners are still somehow being overlooked, but do that at your peril. Sunday night showed this is a team that could be celebrating under confetti come February.
Patriots tame Cowboys offense
This was always going to be able the battle between the Dallas Cowboys’ offense and the New England Patriots’ defense. The 13-9 scoreline tells you which came out on top. Dallas had to settle for just three field goals as their No 1 receiver Amari Cooper was held without a single catch and Dak Prescott finished 19 of 33 for 212 yards and an interception. The Patriots dominated on third down and were excellent in coverage as Prescott struggled to get to grips with slippery conditions, even resorting to gloves in the second half.
If anything New England’s offense was worse. Tom Brady completed less than 50 per cent of his passes and finished with 190 yards as he struggled with a flimsy supporting cast, but a nice touchdown pass to rookie receiver N’Keal Harry in the back corner of the end zone – off of a blocked punt – was enough to make the difference. The Pats are getting by on great coaching and an excellent defense and special teams. Will that be enough against the likes of the Ravens come January?
Kicking woes kill Panthers comeback
Joey Slye missed two extra points and a late field goal as the Carolina Panthers missed a chance to keep their season alive by the skin of its teeth against the New Orleans Saints, falling 34-31 to a last second Will Lutz FG. The Panthers had come back from an early 14-0 deficit, with Kyle Allen (23 of 36, 256 yards, three touchdowns) much improved and DJ Moore (six catches, 126 yards, two touchdowns) in sparkling form, but in the end they felt the absence of first-choice kicker Graham Gano for the first real time this season.
This win all but confirms the Saints’ place in the playoffs as winners of the NFC South. Drew Brees easily moved the ball downfield during the two-minute drill to set up the Luz field goal, and was efficient all night, completing 30 of his 39 passes for 311 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Michael Thomas recorded his fifth straight 100-plus-yard game and tight end Jared Cook also came up big, falling a yard short of the 100-yard mark himself and scoring a touchdown. At 9-2 New Orleans currently possess an all-important bye in the NFC – their clash with the 49ers in week 14 is going to be massive.
Seahawks can win without playing great
Russell Wilson had his worst game of the season but the Seattle Seahawks still found a way to win. That’s the sign of a championship-calibre team which to this point had leaned heavily on their mercurial QB, but it was running back Rashad Penny and the Seattle defense which came up biggest in a 17-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Penny averaged a whopping 9.2 yards per carry as he rushed 14 times for 129 yards and a score – a 58-yard blitz right through the heart of the Philly defense. Penny has been something of a bust since being selected in the first round of last year’s draft, but showed today that he does have talent and could still come good with more playing time long term – especially if Chris Carson continues to have issues with fumbles.
The defense put Carson Wentz under pressure even without the injured Jadeveon Clowney, and also picked him off twice in what was another anaemic display from the Eagles attack. Wentz’s supporting cast is poor, but a great QB needs to be able to elevate his receivers, and Wentz is not doing that right now. If the Cowboys hadn’t also lost on Sunday it would be tempting to rule this disappointing Philadelphia team out of the postseason.
Raiders drop the ball against renewed Jets offense
Well that wasn’t supposed to happen. The Oakland Raiders were 6-4 and had moved themselves into great position for a surprise playoff berth. That path suddenly looks a little murkier after the New York Jets stunned them 34-3, with Oakland failing to score a single point after the Daniel Carlson field goal which came on the opening drive. Jon Gruden’s men simply failed to show against a New York team that looked great on both sides of the ball. Too little too late, sure, but encouraging nonetheless for Gang Green.
This was the Jets’ third straight game with 30-plus points – a huge boon for an offense which had been so poor early in the season. One touchdown came on the defensive side of the ball, with Brian Poole taking an interception 15 yards to the house, but Sam Darnold (20 of 29, 315 yards, two touchdowns) moved the ball well, finding Robby Anderson and Ryan Griffin in the end zone. On defense Jamal Adams was brilliant once again, and Derek Carr was held to just 127 yards before being replaced by Mike Glennon with the game lost in the third quarter.
Jarvis Landry gets his revenge
Jarvis Landry looked like a man intent on hurting his old team on Sunday. The former Miami Dolphin was In The Mood, hauling in 10 receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns as the Cleveland Browns romped to a 41-24 win that keeps them in the playoff race in the AFC.
Landry wasn’t happy about the way he was shipped out of Miami, but will be feeling a lot better now with the current state of the two franchises. His old college team-mate Odell Beckham also had a nice day, finishing with 84 yards and a touchdown, as Baker Mayfield continued his improvement over the second half of the campaign. Mayfield completed 24 of 34 for 327 yards, three touchdowns and a pick, and was helped by both Nick Chubb (106 yards, TD) and Kareem Hunt (37 yards, TD) on the ground.
The Browns continued to be sloppy with penalties – something that has and will continue to hurt them against better teams – but were aided by some equally poor Dolphins discipline. It was an over-ambitious fake punt that led to Landry’s second touchdown, and a Jeroma Baker red zone interception was ruled out for a stupid personal foul.
Titans are still alive in the AFC South
Death, taxes, the Tennessee Titans going 9-7. They’re perennially just a little over average, but that could be enough to see them into the playoffs in a tight but not especially deep AFC. The Titans moved to 6-5 with a 42-20 win over the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars, ripping off 28 points in the third quarter to take control of a previously cagey game.
Tennessee did most of their damage on the ground, with Derrick Henry racking up 159 yards and two scores from 19 carries, and Ryan Tannehill also making hay with his legs. He rushed seven times for 40 yards and also barrelled into the end zone twice. Through the air he only needed to complete 14 passes, but found a good rapport with rookie receiver AJ Brown, who caught four of them for 135 yards and a score. Tannehill’s other touchdown pass went to tackle Dennis Kelly from the one-yard line – the Titans’ second Big Man Touchdown of the season, something which deserves to earn them a place in all of our hearts.
Leonard Fournette (24 carries, 97 yards, two TDs) was the highlight for a Jags offense which struggled again. Nick Foles wasn’t as good as his 32 of 48, 272-yard stat line suggests, and the question remain whether Gardner Minshew is the better option for Jacksonville. They could get some decent trade value from Foles should they decide to go with the rookie sixth-rounder long term.
No Christmas cheer for Rudolph
The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 16-10, but it was still a bad day for Mason Rudolph, who was benched early in the third quarter and replaced with Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges. Things got worse for the second-year QB moments later when Hodges unfurled a 79-yard touchdown to James Washington, and looked far more assured than Rudolph for the remainder of the game, probably winning himself the starting job going forward.
The Steelers were in danger of losing to the hapless 0-11 Bengals, and probably would have were it not for their elite defense. Ryan Finley was sacked four times and Minkah Fitzpatrick came up with yet another big play, returning a fumble forced by Devin Bush 36 yards for a score. It wasn’t pretty, but at 6-5 Pittsburgh are still in the AFC Wildcard race despite their 0-3 start to the campaign.
Buccaneers have two No 1 receivers
What a team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be if only they had a different quarterback. They have the best receiver due in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who went wild in a 35-22 victory over the previously surging Atlanta Falcons. Godwin caught seven passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns as Jameis Winston was exactly what you expect – 313 yards but also two trademark interceptions. The Bucs have a good defense and so much firepower on offense, it would be fascinating to see how dangerous they could be with a less turnover-happy QB under centre.
Even with the interceptions they had enough to beat the Falcons, whose offense stuttered on Sunday. Matt Ryan only completed 50 per cent of his passes and finished without a touchdown, while the run game was non-existent for the second straight week. Their only receiving TD came from back-up quarterback Matt Schaub (to Calvin Ridley), who came in for Ryan with the game lost.
Final note: Vita Vea caught a touchdown pass from Winston, making the 350-pounder the heaviest man to catch a ball in the end zone in at least 50 years. Love it.
Dwayne Haskins staggers to first win
Dwayne Haskins was not good on Sunday, but he does have his first NFL victory after the Washington Redskins shocked the Detroit Lions 19-16 for just their second W of the season. Haskins went 13 of 29 for 156 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, but three Jeff Driskell picks (two to Fabian Moreau) and a 91-yard kick-off return from rookie Steven SIms Jr. meant he still came out on top.